Mary Fons : The Rolling Stone Interview Pt. 1

posted in: Found Text, Nellie Bly | 18
Sure, this is a picture of Ratna Sari Dewi Soekarno, wife of the deposed president Soekarno of Indonesia at the Apollo hotel in April of 1970 — but doesn’t it *look* like she’s interviewing me for Rolling Stone magazine? Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

For well over a decade, writer, editor, quilter, and erstwhile poet and performer Mary Fons has faithfully maintained her blog, PaperGirl. Though the number of posts each week fluctuates slightly from daily to thrice a week or so, Fons’s thousands of subscribers rely on Fons’s unwavering commitment to post “fresh observations.” Sometimes sad, sometimes funny, sometimes outright strange, Fons’s blog is, at the very least, a respite for weary internet travelers, revolted by the endless news cycle and social media inferno.

But lately, possibly due to her demanding job as editor in chief of Quiltfolk magazine, or the ramping up of a major, as-yet-unannounced media project, PaperGirl posts have been sporadic. Her fans are wondering: Where is our PaperGirl? When imaginary journalist Ann Kotske called on her, Fons was at the (very real) family lake house in Wisconsin, sipping tea and wearing blue gingham check pajamas at 10 a.m. What follows is the first part of Fons’s first (imaginary) interview for Rolling Stone.

 

RS: It’s beautiful here. How often are you able to come up to the cottage? 
PG: Not often enough. The last time I was here was in November. I came up with friends from the school newspaper.

How has your life changed since you got your master’s? 
It sounds terrible to say, but I didn’t think the master’s degree would matter as much as it has. Certainly, plenty of people think an MFA in Writing doesn’t matter, that a higher education in the fine arts is too nebulous to have substance. There might have even been a part of me that thought that. But having done the work, knowing how hard it was, knowing how I was then compared to how I am now, it’s just night and day.

In what way?
I’m smarter! (Laughs.) Seriously, I can actually feel my brain working differently than it used to. I read a text or I sit down to write something and it’s like, “Oh, right. I actually know what I’m doing.” I’m also just two years older; I’ve been through more experiences and all that. But there is a kind of critical thinking I do now that I was absolutely not doing before. It feels … powerful.

I talked to a few of your blog readers — 
Wait. Really? You did?

Well, no. But many of them have been surprised there have been fewer PaperGirl entries lately. Now that you’re done with school, you should ostensibly have more time to blog. Is it something else?
(Sighs.) Well, I’ve been trying to figure out why it’s been slow lately. It’s strange to me, too. With Quiltfolk and this other big project I’m working on, there’s definitely time constraints, but I didn’t have time in school, either, and I did pretty well. There are times when … (Long pause.) There are times when I think I ought to be working on essays, on longer pieces, and that my hours spent blogging should be spent working on those.

What are the essays about?
My illness. Fashion. The DIY country craft home decor women I watch on YouTube. Chicago.

Have you thought about closing the blog? Even for awhile?
Absolutely not. The number of posts may ebb now and then, but there is no threat of PaperGirl closing or drifting away.

Why?
Because it’s not a brick wall. I’ve said it for years: Even though this blog is about my life, I do not write PaperGirl for myself. It’s always been for readers. It doesn’t matter if there’s a handful of them or an army of them. Look, I write my diary for myself. Those volumes are solipsistic and scandalous and inappropriate and navel-gazey and maudlin and there’s no spellcheck. PaperGirl is not my diary. It’s a conversation. That’s why it works. It’s a two-way thing. There is a living relationship between the writer (me) and the reader (you.) And it’s a long-term relationship — the longest relationship I’ve ever had, by the way. I close the blog, I close that relationship. It means too much to me, so no way.

You’re committed.
Right. No break-up. No divorce. We’re staying married. (Laughs.) 

You mentioned in your diary —
Sweet living — you read my diary??

Just a few pages. It’s very good. You should think about publishing it.
This is unbelievable. Where is my publicist? (Calling.) Publicist!

Sorry, sorry! I didn’t really read your diary! I’m an imaginary journalist! Can we continue?
Only because you’re imaginary.

You seem to foster a kind of “woman of mystery” persona in the blog by being vague about various “big projects.” On Instagram, you redact locations. Even talking about your “scandalous” diary communicates that there’s the you we get here and the you we don’t get, a Mary that exists in other places and is doing different things. What’s that about?
It’s so funny: In this world of public pages and social media, anytime you say you’re intentionally not mentioning something, you become a “woman of mystery.” But I know what you mean. On Instagram, I’ll redact the location if I’m on a Quiltfolk shoot, since we’re not yet announcing what state is next in the lineup. That will change, by the way.

Oh, Quiltfolk is going to start sharing where you’re going next??
Yup. We’re going to start “announcing the season”, if you will. I’ll talk about that more this week.

So you’ll be posting more this week.
Every day I’m up here in Wisconsin. There’s a lot to talk about.

We can start anywhere you like.
Good. Let’s start with the second half of this interview.

Fine.
Fine.

Are you repeating me?
Are you repeating me?

Stop that.
Stop that!

Okay.
Okay.

From the PaperGirl Archives: “Mary Fons, Freshman,” January 30, 2012

Dutch magazine illustration. I love those dresses so much!
Dutch magazine illustration circa 1880; artist unknown. Lord, I love those dresses!

Yuri is tending to a bit of business while he’s in town. This means I have an hour to spend with you. You look lovely this morning.

Trying to write anything right now that is not a frothy, gooey paean to the strapping young man in my life/house is useless: he’s all I can think about and our reunion has been most happy, but because I refuse to be gross, I’ve rifled through the big red binder and have a little something for you today from the PaperGirl Archive. I promise you’ll be entertained, and there’s no risk of me TMI’ing about Yuri’s perfect, uh, everything.

The entry, titled “Mary Fons, Freshman,” is dated January 30, 2012, and I chose it because it makes this post a post-within-a-post that also digs into the past for old writing. It’s so meta, I’m practically metallic. Bon-apetit!

PaperGirl, January 30, 2012 — “Mary Fons, Freshman”

And now, a report I found amongst my the boxes of things my mother delivered to me in her quest to rid the house in Iowa of questionably saved childhood artifacts.

This essay (?) was written my freshman year of high school, which means I was writing at the tender age of fourteen. I am more than a little scandalized by my flip, bratty attitude — and more than a little proud, friends. As I type this up for you, I remain indignant over the indelicate circumstances that compelled my math teacher to give the assignment. I’ve copied and formatted exactly, word-for-word, from the document itself.

Let’s do this.

“Under normal circumstances, I couldn’t give a damn about the history of mathematics, but since the students in my math class can’t seem to control their gastrol [sic] intestines, I am forced to write this report. Having encyclopedias from 1962, it makes it difficult to find an abundance of information on anything other than Lincoln, so my one and only source will be my math textbook, Transition Mathematics, (Scott, Foresman, 1992, All rights reserved.)

THE DEVELOPMENT OF OUR NUMBER SYSTEM

Do you recognize these numbers? 

0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9

You ought to, you’re a math teacher. We use numbers every day. But have you ever wondered how they came about? Well, I haven’t either, but I’ll tell you anyway. 

Long ago, the Greeks and Romans had a number system. It’s wasn’t like ours — they used the letters of their alphabet to represent numbers. The Greeks used more letters than the Romans, which is a totally pointless bit of info but is has to be a page report and I have absolutely no material at all. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if I am one of the only ones in my class who actually completes this assignment! Anyhow, the Romans used L for fifty, C for one-hundred, D for five-hundred, and T for two. Europeans used this system from 100 B.C. to 1400 A.D.

During this time, the Hindus were hard at work on their own number system, which is the system we use today. It was called the DECIMAL SYSTEM! This system is the one that has made my life a living hell ever since preschool. I have never been good at math. If I was, I wouldn’t be having to deal with high schoolers who can’t stop farting. (Excuse the term, it’s so blue-collar.) But I digress.

The Europeans didn’t figure out the decimal system until 1202 A.D. A guy named Leonardo of Pisa, an Italian mathematician also known as Fibonacci, translated the Arabic manuscript into Latin, and that was the only reason the Europeans ever began using this system. Thus ends my report on THE DEVELOPMENT OF OUR NUMBER SYSTEM. Thank you.

Now, because I still have a half a page left, I will express my opinion on this situation. It saddens to me know that my fellow classmates cannot grasp the fact that they are in high school. Maybe farting was funny in second grade, but not anymore; at least not to me, or anyone else with an I.Q. over ten. Frankly, I’m scared. Are these the leaders of tomorrow? If so, for God’s sake, kill me now.”

[end of post]

My teacher put a red X through the words damn and “living hell” and docked me 10 points. It may not surprise you that I was considered fairly nerdy in high school, though socially-speaking, I was a floater: I had nerd friends, chorus friends, partying friends, and my older sister’s supercool friends, so I wasn’t terminally nerdy. But the general consensus was that I was a good at English, nice enough, and in no way serious girlfriend material.

Today, I absolutely think farts are funny and I am one happy girlfriend. Things do change.

 

This Post Is a Joke: “The Mistress”

posted in: Found Text, Joke, Word Nerd | 4
Mary Robinson, b. 1757, Bristol England. Famous for poetry, novels, acting -- and for being the first public mistress of George IV.
Mary Robinson, b. 1757, Bristol England. Famous for poetry, novels, acting — and for being the first public mistress of George IV.

I am fan of jokes. I love jokes!

There’s a small suitcase of jokes in my brain. I frequently find opportunities to pull them out. Some are not appropriate in mixed company, many are highly appropriate in mixed company, and many of them serve to blend everyone: humor is the great equalizer. I have no choice but to have and hold my little jokes; creating and maintaining a solid, if modest, joke repertoire is necessary if I’m ever to be described as a raconteur. I have a long way to go (too excitable) but you have to make a start on these things.

 

Reading a joke is a different experience than hearing someone tell it, but I kinda like reading them. I’ve never tried writing them down, though. Today is the day. Let me be clear: I didn’t write this joke; this is an old joke that I am telling in my own way, here on PaperGirl. I’m not sure I’ve ever written a joke from scratch. I think I’d remember, don’t you? That’s the next step.

For now, know what you’re reading:

joke |jōk|
noun
a thing that someone says to cause amusement or laughter, esp. a story with a funny punchline: she was in a mood to tell jokes.

Let’s begin.

A husband and wife are having dinner at an extremely chi-chi restaurant in the city. Lobster tails, pate, stuff like that.

Right before the dessert course, this gorgeous young woman comes over to the couple’s table. She waltzes up and kisses the husband smack on the lips! She’s like, “I’ll see you later, tiger.” And she sashays away.

The wife freaks out, of course. “Who the hell was that?” she hisses.

“That’s my mistress,” says the husband.

“That’s it,” says the wife. “I’m done. Enough of this sham — I want a divorce!”

The husband chews his steak. A divorce would be very costly and disruptive. He takes a swig of wine.

“I can understand your desire to leave me,” he replies. “But consider: if we get a divorce, say goodbye to the country club. There will be no more skiing trips to the Alps. No more Bentley, no more Rolls. Yacht club, gone. Summers in Tuscany, gone. Your little side trips to Chanel will end. But the decision is yours.”

At that moment, the couple’s mutual friend Larry enters the restaurant with a sexy young thing on his arm.

“Who’s that woman with Larry?” asks the wife.

“That’s his mistress,” says her husband.

The wife take a bite of salad and says, “Well, ours is prettier.”

 

“Dear New York: Love, Chicago.”

The Wabash St. bridge, going up to make way for a ship.
The Wabash St. bridge, going up to make way for a ship. No big deal.

“Dear New York:

I’m writing because I’m concerned about Mary.

When she left me to come see you she was guarded, uneasy about being away from me for so long. Six weeks is a long time, no doubt about it. She and I have been together well over twelve years, and though Mary travels extensively, even her longest trips are usually no more than two weeks; there loomed over us significant separation anxiety. Plus, who would get the mail?

She was also concerned because — though she had a serious crush on you for most of her life — Mary suffers from a mild case of New York City-induced low-level panic. The scale of you (huge) and your population density (dense) causes her to chew her lip and drink too much coffee when she’s with you for even short periods of time. It’s a mild case, but even so.

But that anxiety has disappeared. Her lip-chewing incident was last week and was an isolated event. Rather than feeling skittish, she’s relaxed. In place of the subtle “outsider” or “impostor” syndrome she has felt with you in years past, there is a wholesomeness to her experience so far and a peculiar calm — this is even with the pools of filthy slush she has to wade through, the constant honking on 1st Ave. and the really, really badly cut finger she has right now due to the cheap-a** drinking glasses in this furnished apartment that continue to break in her hands.

Mary is falling in love with you, New York, and this is not okay with me.

I am Chicago. I am her Nelson Algren and Saul Bellow. I am where Mary wrote poems for microphones. We became Neo-Futurists together. She is my lake beyond the slaughter yards. I reflect her in the windows downtown; I am her osso bucco; we have our own booth at Spiaggia. I’m leather, she’s lace. We read all the books, all the time, we have tea in the morning. We’ve gotten kicked out of bars and invited into libraries. Mary and I are involved, is what I’m saying, New York.

We have also recently renovated the bathroom and the kitchen.

While Mary’s with you and you hear her say things like, “I love it here,” or “I wanna move here,” please let me know. I will make sure to note the time and date of the sentiment and also be able to mobilize forces here to convince her to a) stop saying things like that entirely; or b) adapt the statements to something more like, “I love it here BUT I could never live here forever,” or “I wanna move here…but I’ll never give up my place in Chicago, the city of my dreams and where my heart is forever and ever, amen.”

I’m sure you understand. I simply can’t lose her.

With Regards,
Chicago”

 

Found Text: QVC + Dooney & Bourke

posted in: Found Text, Word Nerd | 4
Spank it!
Spank it!

I watch TV when I’m traveling.

Last night, I was a living, breathing road-dog cliche: I came home from a long/awesome day of work, closed the door to my hotel room, washed my hair, put on a moisturizing face mask, wrapped myself up in a towel, and got into bed with a chocolate bar and the mighty remote control. I’m glad the Tulsa Hampton Inn provides notepaper and a pen on the nightstand; as it turned out, I would need them, too.

I landed on QVC. A few years ago, this company hired genius marketing people who elevated the concept of shopping on TV from one of total lameness to one of at least partial coolness. Could it be? I remember article after article (read: press release after press release) about how HSN and QVC were attracting A-list celebrities and everyone from Fancy McPants to ChiChi McGee were doing product on television. Liza Minnelli did a line of clothes for one of the networks; I know because I bought two pieces. Off the TV! Good lord! It was an isolated event, though; my items were costume pieces for my Liza-centric one-woman show in 2011. I hadn’t looked in on the world of television shopping since then, so I thought I’d check the scene.

QVC, I salute you. I was thoroughly entertained for the duration of my face mask. I’m not being sarcastic! It was great.

I watched host Lisa Robertson present/sell a collection of Dooney & Bourke handbags. As I watched, my jaw dropped open. (Well, my lips parted; the mask was getting really hard.) I grabbed the pen and paper and wrote down some of the sentences that came out of Lisa Robertson’s mouth. She was mesmerizing; she could talk for ten minutes about absolutely nothing. Words were coming. Zero new information was being dispensed. Everything you needed to know about each handbag was learned in the first fifteen seconds of seeing it — but not if Lisa had anything to do with it. And she kept repeating the word “crossbody” over and over again, inserting it into every possible place it would fit. I’ll bet you a million bucks that the hosts/producers zero in on a single word in any presentation to use again and again, like a mantra or a password because it’s soothing, hypnotizing. The word could be “phytonutrient” or “sleek” or “soothing.” Last night, it was “crossbody.”

“Love this crossbody bag. The strap, crossbody, is amazing, this amazing crossbody bag is one you will love forever. You will have this for years. Leather, Florentine. Strap, crossbody. This beautiful leather crossbody bag — wow.”

It got better, though. She actually said these things. These are verbatim sentences.

“Are you shorter? You want a bag that won’t overwhelm you. You don’t want to be overwhelmed by your handbag. This is your bag.”

“You’re saying, ‘I don’t want to fight with my bag. I want a bag and I don’t want to fight with it.’ This is that bag.”

“Crossbody.”

“These pockets in the front, they go all the way down. Absolutely.”

“We make these zippers very easy. These zippers are not going to bite you.”

“This is Florentine leather. Very European leather.”

Glorious. And she kept spanking the bags! She’d do a little rub-n-spank, rub-n-spank and finger the front, finger the findings and the hardware. Very sexual, really, almost erotic. So it was all a lot of fun and I fell asleep watching it. When I woke up twenty minutes later, my face was a cement slab and this morning it looks AMAZING.

Found Text: My Grad School Application Essay

That's my folder this semester. But do I have a cubby??
That’s my folder this semester. But do I have a cubby??

And now, without asking for it and likely not wanting it, I present my grad school application essay. It’s a bit of a longer read, but it is essentially the story of how I was robbed in January and the story is pretty good. I labored so on this piece that my writer’s ego won’t allow me to let it gather dust in Google Docs forever.

Editor’s Note: WordPress doesn’t do footnotes, so I’ve cobbled together a blog version of the two I included; it should be clear. Also: I got into the program!

Fons
Writing Sample
University of Chicago MLA Admissions
Spring ’13

“To philosopher and historian the madness and imbecile wickedness of mankind ought to appear ordinary events.”
– David Hume, Treatise of Human Nature

Kill a man’s family, and he may brook it,
But keep your hands out of his breeches’ pocket.
– Lord Byron, Don Juan, Canto X, Stanza 79

For well over an hour I stood, arched over glass cases, chatting with the guys at the fancy pen shop. We looked down at the different models. I learned about barrels and nibs, the difference between this Italian manufacturer and that German one. I was shopping for An Official Pen, the first in my life. I had decided to become a woman of letters even if I was the only one who knew it and I needed the proper tool for the job.

I auditioned several before I found an Italian rollerball made of heavy white resin with gold details and a nice heft. It fit my hand just right and streamed ink onto paper with an almost wanton quality. This sexiness, mixed with the solemnity and significance one expects from An Official Pen, ended the search. I paid, tucked my purchase into my handbag, and my new pen and I sailed through the shop doors onto the street. I do write so many words each day; now the already pleasurable act was getting this insane upgrade. How was it possible to be so happy?

Less than an hour later, my purse was stolen. Just like that, my pen was gone, and I went from bliss to panic. For a time I was inconsolable, but in the hours and days that followed, I considered an argument that challenged my reasons be upset. According to this argument, no one had actually taken my purse: in fact, there was no such thing.

* * *

Had he been at Panera that evening, 18th century Scottish philosopher David Hume would’ve patted a hysterical me on the shoulder and asked me to consider the lily.

Hume made many significant contributions to the world of philosophy, but the one that concerns us here is his controversial ‘bundle theory.” Bundle theory is the ontological assertion that there really is no such thing as a lily. What there is is your sense of smell, your perception of flowers, your memory of previous “lilies,” atoms of water and carbon, your understanding of height and weight and how such things are measured, and so on. In other words, a lily is no more than a collection of its properties; without all of these pieces sliding into place, a lily might as well be a hippopotamus, or a war missile, or Greenland, or nothing at all.

There in the cafe (better: there in a square space delineated by slabs of brick and mortar wherein one conceives of ‘soup’ and ‘sandwich’) my purse had been deleted. None of its physical properties were available to me any longer; I had only a memory of them — a pretty flimsy “property,” if you ask me. And though I believed I was adequately describing the purse over the phone to the police, there was so much adrenaline pumping through me at that moment, even the picture in my head was shorting out. Perhaps to the thieves “my” purse still physically existed (was it “theirs” now?) but to me, my beloved handbag was suddenly nothing more than a concept — an expensive black Italian leather one that held the contents of my organized life. What was a handbag? What was any object that could be so empirically with me one moment and gone the next? Do handbags exist, Mr. Hume? Mine certainly didn’t, not anymore. The bundle had left the building and was probably halfway across Chicago at that point.

It wasn’t until I applied Hume’s theory to my situation that I began to feel even slightly better. If the purse was a concept now, it was a concept an hour before the crime as well; I just felt more comfortable with it back then. There was another purse I had yet to encounter that would be attractive to me as a replacement. The pocketbook, the keys, the day runner, the phone — these were all just bundles of properties, I told myself, not items of true substance that existed on their own, certainly not items that I could feel real affection for. (Full disclosure: the Chanel lipstick was tough — I loved my “La Somptueuse” very, very much and of course that particular shade has been discontinued; in the end I had to admit that lipstick is only pigment, water, and sexual possibility; nothing more and not anything less. It’s hard to be actively devastated when you decide to bag emotion and consider objecthood instead. An hour later I stopped crying and straightened up.

My purse never existed. My purse never existed. My beautiful, beautiful purse.

Though I  was somewhat less distraught after considering all this — calling my mom helped, too — my inquiry into the nature of material things wasn’t quite finished and now threatened to disturb me more profoundly than the theft itself. In terms of causing long-lasting trauma to a person, I do consider the battle of petty crime vs. metaphysical crisis an even match. As I walked up Michigan Avenue the next morning carrying exactly two personal effects (1), I felt positively weightless. Weightlessness is a feeling with a good reputation, but actually it’s awful. This is because it defies one of the the most fundamental properties of all material objects: gravity. Even if they are all just a big bundle of this and that perception, even if we’re making all this up, blink by blink, material objects (e.g., apples, purses, small dogs), are spooky if they suddenly start floating in the air.

Everything on my body seemed subject to fling off at any moment. I fully expected to be robbed again, was anticipating it, bracing myself for another thief who might divest me of my coat, even the shoes on my feet. My glasses weren’t a given: they might pop off my face and go flying into the sky. What, exactly, was keeping them from doing just that? Wasn’t everything else gone? Hadn’t my fellow man betrayed me once? My previous relation to objects and other humans (more objects!) was now absurd. We believe we own things, that we “have” them, that they exist because we see them; after the purse snatching, these ideas flagged and dropped. Not a very good place from which to go to the D.O.T. for a new driver’s license, but I went anyway, brow furrowed. (2)

* * *

I have replaced my pen.

The shop guys gave me a YPT (“You Poor Thing”) discount and two free ink refills, which was awfully sweet of them. The argument that there is no such thing as a thing, a concept I might not’ve considered at such length had I not been unceremoniously divested of many precious things, did help me cope. But bundle theory, like arguments for or against deism, does kind of end up in a similar, dare I say impotent spot: either there is a god or there isn’t; either there are substantive things or there aren’t; we still have to pay the electric bill. We still have to pee. We still have to make sure we’ve received and read through a particularly strong graduate school applicant’s materials thoroughly.

Are you sure you have everything?

——————————
(1) Passport, mint.
(2) A final dispatch from ground zero: As I passed WGN, it seemed the most natural thing in the world that the radio would report the story.z “Popular Chicago resident Mary Fons was robbed yesterday. Police say her Marni handbag, itself valued at over $1500, was stolen at a cafe at Congress and State around 4pm. Cafe staff assisted Fons in placing calls to cancel credit cards, including Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, and Citibank. A report was filed with Chicago police. “They made me call 311 because this is a non-emergency,” Fons said, “But as a woman’s brain is located in her handbag, I may require an ambulance.”